humanize your brandI know, I know, it’s hard to believe, but it turns out that consumers just aren’t convinced that the people who are trying to sell them stuff and turn a profit off of those sales are being totally up front about, well, anything. In fact, even if you were the distinguished owner of George Washington’s Tree Removal Service (presumably you couldn’t tell a lie, either), your target audience would probably still be more than a little dubious. Let’s check out some of the research, and see why being friends with your customers and clients might be more helpful to your business than throwing ads at them.

Nobody Trusts a Salesman

Just think about the quintessential what-not-to-do in sales example: the sleazy car salesman. Now, I know your business is likely far more upstanding than a guy in a slick suit who’s going to try to sell his customers a junker for the price of a BMW, but, unfortunately, it seems like this has become a kind of cultural image of any kind of sales or advertising effort.

And it makes sense – at the end of the day, no matter how honest, transparent, and interesting your ad campaign may be, consumers know that your ultimate goal is to sell them something. This kind of sentiment has resulted in over three quarters of consumers surveyed by Lab 42 believing that the claims made in ads are either “very exaggerated” or “somewhat exaggerated.” Only 3% thought ads were “very accurate.” Over 85% think that cleaning and weight loss ads are photoshopped.

Trust in sales efforts is declining, too – a survey by Neilsen found that consumer confidence in ads dropped by 25% in 2011. It might be time to reassess whether traditional advertisment is the best investment of your time and money.

The Proletariat is Rising

Okay, not really (sorry, Marx), but there is a very significant push towards collective knowledge about businesses and person-to-person recommendations, likely due to that lack of trust in businesses and their advertising strategies.

A report from Forrester Research found that the most trusted form of product or brand recommendation is that made by friends and family, with 70% of consumers surveyed giving that response. This was closely followed by professional and consumer review sites, which have the trust of 55% and 46% of consumers, respectively.

Now, the key to success becomes tapping into that recommendation cycle. Sounds like a place for social media to me, seeing as that’s where consumers tend to make brand recommendations! Plus, a significant social media presence is one way that you can start to humanize your brand, turning it from a salesy business into an entity your consumers would want to chill out and have a beer with.

Consumers Like a Funny Guy

Speaking of humanizing, let’s talk about humor. Who would you want to grab a beer with: the guy with tons of funny stories that keep a conversation going, or one who can recite tons of super dry statistics about marketing? (It’s okay, I don’t blame you.) If you’re like 71% of consumers, a funny sales pitch is going to make you way more likely to remember a product that anything else.

In comparison, 12% of those surveyed by Lab 42 said they were most likely to remember an educational ad, 8% said they remembered sexy commercials best, 4% remembered serious ones, and 3% preferred patriotic campaigns. The study didn’t ask why consumers prefer funny ads or whether or not they’re more trusted, but I think there’s a pretty clear connection between humor and that friendliness factor – and possibly trustworthiness.

Even Your Business Needs Friends

Lest you think that all of this talk about friendliness and humanizing is solely for B2C businesses, let’s take a step in the B2B direction. No, your business doesn’t need to have business friends on Facebook that it makes brand recommendations to (although I do know a farmer whose goats and sheep talk to each other on Facebook…). But you do need to humanize your business, for the same reasons that end-consumers tend not to trust advertising.

In fact, that’s the one of the best uses of social media for B2B companies: you can put a name and a face to your business, allowing potential clients to get to know it better and see it as something other than a money-making entity.

You Can’t Manufacture Trust

The state of the business world and the economy is such that consumers are fairly suspicious of sales efforts, which means that making sales efforts look like something else is the key to gaining consumer trust (and thus, sales). Turning your brand into a “friend” rather than a “business” might be the first step.

How do you humanize your brand? How do you gain customers’ or clients’ trust?